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Scout leader Geoffrey McGrath.
On April 17, 2014, following attempts to pressure an openly gay scoutmaster to step down and then the church which sponsors the troop to fire him, the Boy Scouts of America revoked the charter of a church-sponsored troop. The decision bars the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church and its 15 scouts from using logos, uniforms, and names associated with the Boy Scouts as long as the troop is led by scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath. The decision also reignites the controversy over the organization's contentious policy on homosexuality.
On May 24, 2013, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America voted to end its longstanding ban on gay scouts but retained its ban on adult leaders and employees, a change in policy the BSA leadership hoped would staunch its hemorrhaging in membership and donations without completely alienating the conservative religious groups that sponsor most of its troops. The enforcement of its ban on adult leaders, however, exposes the fallacy in what was largely a cynical publicity ploy.
On April 17, a Boy Scouts spokesman issued a statement saying that because the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church "no longer agrees to the terms of the BSA chartered organization agreement, which includes following BSA policies, it is no longer authorized to offer the Scouting program."
In late March, the BSA severed ties with McGrath when it learned that he was openly gay as a result of an interview he gave to a Seattle newspaper. McGrath, a software engineer who is married to his longtime partner, spoke about his sexual orientation in an article profiling the troop, which was formed last year in a south Seattle neighborhood heavily populated by immigrants and lower-income families. In response to BSA's directive that he step down, McGrath said that he had no intention of complying unless he was instructed to do so by the church of which he is a longtime member.
Dr. Monica Corsaro, pastor of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, has refused to replace McGrath as their scout leader: "Geoffrey is our Scoutmaster and Geoffrey will remain our Scoutmaster," she said.
McGrath also received support from Seattle's mayor and City Council, who sent a letter on his behalf to BSA's Seattle-area Council president Rob McKenna. "This act of discriminating is deeply disturbing," they wrote, adding that the BSA's decision on McGrath undermines its credibility in teaching admirable values.
However, in a letter dated April 17, Steven P. McGowan of the Boy Scouts of America's General Council told the church that its charter has been revoked for refusing to oust McGrath.
"As you are aware, the policy of the Boy Scouts of America does not allow open or avowed homosexuals to serve as adult volunteer leaders. . . . Nevertheless, Rainier Beach United Methodist Church has stated that it will not remove [McGrath] as a leader and will continue to allow him to serve as an adult leader in violation of the charter agreement and the policies of the Boy Scouts of America.
"As a result of this refusal to comply with the policies, guidelines, rules, and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America, Rainer Beach United Methodist Church is hereby advised that it is no longer an authorized chartered organization and may no longer use the Scouting program or any of its registered marks or brands."
Corsaro said the BSA's revocation of its charter was not a surprise, but was nevertheless disappointing. "Breaking us up like this seems to go against everything the Boy Scouts is about," she said.
Corsaro and McGrath have hired an attorney, and said they believe BSA is infringing on their religious freedom, since the organization expects churches to choose their scoutmasters.
Corsaro said in a statement, "As a Reconciling Congregation, it's important to us that we are open to all people. It's a part of our values that the spirit of inclusion is also reflected in the Boy Scout Troop we charter. The congregation stands with Geoff, because his work with this Troop reflects the spirit and the values of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church."
Zach Wahls, Executive Director of Scouts for Equality, a national organization dedicated to ending the BSA's ban on gay members and leaders, said, "The Boy Scouts' decisions only serve to hurt a group of boys who need the values and leadership of someone like Scoutmaster McGrath."
"Unfortunately," Wahls added, "the BSA's decision calls into question its commitment to leadership and values by perpetuating an outmoded policy rooted in fear and discrimination. History will show that today's announcement is a self-inflicted wound."
The debate over whether to allow gays in scouting has been a costly one for the Boy Scouts, which has lost members, donors, and prestige as a result of its homophobic policies.
The resolution that ended the ban on members was vehemently opposed by conservative parents and volunteers and the usual suspects, such as hate groups like the Family Research Council, religious organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention, and assorted bigots. Many anti-gay figures, including Texas Governor Rick Perry and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, issued statements of deep disappointment at the outcome of the vote.
But, as Ari Ezra Waldman observed at Towleroad, the new policy adopted last year is actually worse than the old one. "Allowing gay scouts seems like a step forward," Waldman wrote. "But the exclusive focus on gay youth proves that this 'step forward' is anything but a good thing. In fact, it's the worst possible result and shows the Scouts' true anti-gay colors. Gay kids are being let into the Boy Scouts not because the Scouts recognize the inherent equality of all American youth, but rather to more directly implement the organization's anti-gay dogma."
Waldman observed then that "The continued ban on gay scout leaders, reinforces the Scout message that homosexuality is wrong: The Scouts are saying that, as a child, you don't know who or what you are, so we will help you find yourself; as an adult, your choice to be gay, in violation of morality and God, makes you a negative influence on children."
Certainly, the ban on gay adult volunteers and leaders sends the strong message that gay people are dangerous to children. This message was strongly denounced by the New York Times editorial board, which declared that "The Boy Scouts organization--by tolerating a loathsome belief, pressed by religious activists, that equates homosexuality with deviance--has committed itself to rejecting good, dedicated leaders. It should understand that scouting's mission does not have to dovetail with right-wing agendas and bigotry. The scout movement was built a century ago simply upon interests 'universal among boys'--outdoor skills and adventure--and on values of citizenship and decency. It's a shame the Boy Scouts have allowed bigotry to tarnish this tradition."
The Boy Scouts' continuing discrimination against gay people will only hasten its descent into irrelevance. Until the organization ends its bigotry, it will be defined by it.
The news video below reports on the current controversy.